A few simple debugging tips for RTKLIB

Unfortunately, error reporting is not one of RTKLIB’s strengths.  Sometimes it will halt with an error message that is less than helpful, other times it will just continue through the entire solution with Q=0 or Q=2 without ever getting a fix because of a minor error in the input file configuration or parameters. I suspect anyone who has used RTKLIB with any regularity has run into cases like this innumerable times. It still happens to me all the time, almost always because I have made a silly mistake somewhere. For a new RTKLIB user, it can be quite difficult to figure out why they are not getting a valid solution in cases like this.

In this post, I will demonstrate some examples of common errors and some techniques to help identify them. First let’s take a quick look at a couple of real-time solution examples with RTKNAVI, then I will jump to post-processing cases for the rest of the examples.

In my experience, the most common error when using RTKNAVI is to improperly specify the base location. To demonstrate this, I go to the “Positions” tab on the “Options” menu in RTKNAVI and switch the Base Station position type from “Average of Single Position” to “RTCM Position”. In this example, my base stream is u-blox binary and contains no RTCM messages so RTKLIB will not get any valid base location information and can not calculate a solution. However, rather than halting and letting the user know there is a problem, RTKNAVI just runs through the whole solution without ever reporting either an error or a valid position. To help understand what happened in a case like this, the first step is to click on the tiny unlabeled square above the “Start/Stop” button. This will bring up the RTK Monitor window. Choose “Error/Warning” from the Monitor options as shown in the image below to bring up additional error and warning information.

In this case, every sample reports an “initial base station position error”. This should be enough information to track down the problem fairly quickly. Often this will be the case. If the additional information in this window doesn’t help, then the next step is to enable the debug trace and look at the trace file. This is covered in more detail in the post-processing examples further below.

In my experience, the second most common reason to get no solution with RTKNAVI is that navigation messages haven’t been enabled for either base or rover receiver. If this is the case, then all the SNR bars will be gray. When navigation data is available, the bars will be colored as in the image above. Lack of SNR bar color is the easiest way to detect this problem but another symptom is that the “Error/Warning” window will report “No common satellites” for every sample even though satellites are appearing in the SNR window.

A more general troubleshooting technique that will work for either real-time or post-processing and for GUI or command line RTKLIB applications is the debug trace file. I will demonstrate a couple of examples of using this with RTKPOST but the same basic technique can also be used with RTKNAVI, RNX2RTKOP, RTKCONV, CONVBIN, or STRSVR.

To enable the debug trace, set “Output Debug Trace” in the “Options” menu to something other than “OFF”. For simple errors, level 2 is enough and will produce a less overwhelming amount of information. For more detailed information about the GNSS solution, especially the ambiguity resolution, level 3 is better. For more details about the communication streams, level 4 can be useful. Level 5 includes many of the solution matrices and is too detailed for most general debug. Level 1 only contains the error messages available in the error window and is not useful. The image below from the RTKPOST Options menu shows the trace level set to 3. I usually set it to level 3 since I am often looking at the details of the ambiguity resolution, but for simple debug I would recommend starting with level 2 and that is what I will use in the examples below.

Next, I will intentionally make some silly mistakes and show how they appear in the error window and the trace file.

Let’s start with an example where RTKPOST actually does a good job of reporting the error to demonstrate how it should work, and occasionally does. To keep the example simple I will use files in the root directory, with names: rover.obs, base.obs, and rover.nav.

In this first case, I have made a typo in the name of the .nav file. Now, when I click on “Execute” to start the solution, it almost immediately halts and reports “Error: no nav data” in the error window near the bottom of the window. If only RTKLIB would always be as straightforward as this!

Next, I intentionally make a typo in the rover observation file and click on “Execute”. Again, the solution halts almost immediately but in this case the error message in the error window is much less useful. Not only does it not tell me which file has a problem, but it also suggests there is something specific wrong with the input data, not that the file is completely missing. Fortunately, clicking on another tiny unlabeled square (circled in red below) brings up the trace file, assuming trace debug was enabled as described above. This tells us exactly what went wrong, that the input rover observation file could not be opened.

For the next example, I will correct the typo in the file name but then set the location in the base rinex file header to all zeros. This is another common problem and usually happens because the rinex file was generated by RTKCONV or other application from a binary receiver output file that did not contain navigation messages. Without navigation information, RTKCONV can not estimate the receiver location and sets the approximate position field in the rinex header to all zeros. Again, the solution halts almost immediately, and the error message is identical to the previous case. However, looking at the trace file, there is now no mention of a file open error. To understand the difference between these two trace files, it’s important to know that the entries in the trace file beginning with 2 are warnings, and those beginning with 1 are errors. RTKLIB treats the missing file as a warning since there may be other observation files that are present, and doesn’t get an actual error until it looks for the base position information. With just the error, it is impossible to tell these two case apart, but by looking at the warnings as well, it is fairly easy to differentiate them.

Another fairly common error is to use the wrong base observation file. If the base observations do not overlap the rover observations in time, then the solution will run all the way through the data, without error, but the solution status will always be Q=0. Here’s the trace output for this example. I aborted the run before it completed, after it was obvious that something is wrong which is why the error windows shows “aborted”. The “age of differential” is the time between rover observation and closest base observation so again in this case, looking at the trace file makes the problem much more obvious

If the wrong navigation file is used, the solution will again run to the end with no error, and the status will remain Q=0, just as above, but this time the trace file will report “no common satellites”

Another mistake I make fairly often, is when I am specifying the precise base location rather than using the approximate location in the rinex header, and I forget to change it when moving to a different data set with a different base location. In this case, the solution will run without error, but the fix status will remain in float (Q=2) for the entire solution. There are several reasons why you might never get a fix, including just poor quality data, but in this case when I look at the trace file I see extremely large outliers right from the first sample. If all the satellites are reporting outliers and they are as large as this, that almost always means that the base location has been specified incorrectly.

These are only a few examples but probably cover over 80% of cases I look at where people are unable to get a solution. Most of the rest are caused by low quality data.

If you have other examples of common failures that I haven’t covered here, please describe them in a comment, along with the signature seen in the trace file.

RTKLIB documentation tips

The RTKLIB software package has an enormous amount of capability and flexibility. Between all of the different applications, the configuration parameters and input options, it is very powerful, but it can also be a little difficult to navigate at times.  I get a lot of questions on how to do various tasks in RTKLIB so I thought it would be worth going over the available documentation as well as mentioning a couple of tips and tricks for finding information on some of the less documented features.

The first place to look is the official RTKLIB manual .  It is well written and fairly thorough, at least in many parts.  If you are using  RTKLIB and have not been through the manual recently (or have never read it), it is well worth going back and taking another look.  Almost every time I go back to it, I find some detail I have missed in the past, not because it is difficult to find, but just because there is so much information in there.  Especially when using the GUI apps there is a tendency to think the manual is not necessary since everything should be intuitive, but in this case there are many features that are not so obvious.  For example, at least to me, it is not overly intuitive that the tiny little unlabeled square (the RTK Monitor Window) above the Start/Stop button in the image below is one of the most important buttons in RTKNAVI and will give you access to up to 35 different windows of useful information.

navi1

Here is an image of  a few of the various monitor windows I frequently find useful.

navi3

Click on a few more of the small inconspicuous triangles, squares and rectangles on the RTKNAVI, and you can change the solution coordinates to pitch/yaw, open up sky views for the base and rover, open up a baseline compass heading plot, and many other things.  If you haven’t read the manual, it’s easy to miss some of these options.

navi2

Unfortunately, although the manual has lots of useful information, both for the command line and GUI apps, it has not been updated in six years, so some of the newer features are not included.

This is especially true for the linux command line apps like STR2STR and RTKRCV.  One tip for getting more up to date information for any  of the command line apps is to use the embedded help messages, since, for the most part, these have been kept up to date.  For example,  let’s first look in the manual at the stream options and command line options for the STR2STR app.  We find that there are 6 stream options and 13 command line options listed.

str2str_1

str2str_1a

Now let’s bring up the embedded help message in STR2STR by typing “str2str -h” and we get the following:

str2str_2

str2str_2a

Notice that the number of stream options has increased from 6 to 8 and the number of command line options from 13 to 24.  This is a significant number of additional options to work with!

Another thing to be aware of  is that all of the RTKLIB apps are using a common core code, and for the most part it is only the user interfaces that are different.  This means that if a feature is available in one app, say for example RTKNAVI, then it is very likely also available in another app, say RTKRCV.  It may just be harder to find information on how to enable it there.  However, if you know what you are looking for, and you know that it’s most likely there somewhere, then this usually makes it easier to find.

Another resource that can be helpful is this post I wrote a while back which includes description of most of the additional features I have added to the demo5 version of RTKLIB to optimize it for low cost receivers, as well as additional information on all of the previously existing config parameters that I typically find useful to modify.  This post is not guaranteed to be fully up to date but I do try and update it with new information as I add new features to the demo5 code.

The above resources will be enough to answer many questions but sometimes they will not be enough and you will need to dig a little deeper.  The next step is to look at the source code which is available on Github, both for the official and the demo5 versions of RTKLIB.  The first place to look is the “options.c” file as it lists all of the supported input configuration parameters as well as their valid input values in a format that is easy to read.  Here is the beginning of the tables of valid option values and parameters.

options

Going through these tables, I found about a dozen parameters in the official code that are not mentioned in the manual and a few more in the demo5 code that are not mentioned in my documentation.

If you still need more information, the next level is to look at the top-level source file for each app.  For example in the “rnx2rtkp.c” file you will find the help menu listed at the top and then in the main() function lower down you will see where the options are actually parsed.  This should answer most questions.  You can go even deeper into the code if you have to, but I will warn you, things do get a bit more challenging once you get to the next layer.

The last tip that I can offer is that I have written about a number of RTKLIB features in my posts over the last few years, so using the search window at the top right corner of this page will occasionally bring up some useful information.

Anyway, hope at least some of this is helpful to those of you trying to learn a little bit more about some of RTKLIB’s less well documented features.

A first look at the u-blox ZED-F9P dual frequency receiver

The new low cost dual frequency receiver from u-blox, the ZED-F9P, is just now becoming available for purchase for those not lucky enough to get early eval samples from u-blox.  CSGShop has a ZED-F9P receiver in stock for $260 which seems quite reasonable, given that it is only $20 more than their NEO-M8P single frequency receiver.

Even better, Ardusimple is advertising an F9P  receiver for 158 euros (~$180) + 20 euros shipping , although their boards won’t ship until January.  As far as I’m aware of, this is actually less than anybody today is selling the M8P receiver for today!

Of course, this is still a fair bit more than a u-blox M8T single frequency receiver without an internal RTK engine, which is available from CSGShop for $75, but the F9T will be coming out next year also without internal RTK engine, which should bring down the price for the lowest cost dual frequency receivers.

Unfortunately I am not one of the lucky ones who got eval boards directly from u-blox yet.  However, I do have two prototype boards from Gumstix, given to me by them for evaluation.  Gumstix offers both off-the-shelf boards and semi-custom boards designed from their libraries of circuits.  I haven’t worked with them directly but it looks like an interesting and useful concept.  The F9P boards from Gumstix won’t be available for sale until at least Feburary next year but I thought I would share the results of some initial testing.  From a performance perspective, I would expect these boards to be similar to F9P boards from other suppliers.

For a first look, I chose to compare the F9P to an M8T for one of my typical driving-around-the-neighborhood exercises.  I looked at both the internal real-time F9P solution and the RTKLIB solutions, both real-time and post-processed.

Experiment Setup:

For the base stations, I connected a CSGShop M8T receiver and a Gumstix F9P  receiver through an antenna splitter to a ComNav AT330 dual frequency antenna on my roof.  Since RTKLIB doesn’t yet fully support the receiver commands needed to setup the F9P, I used the most recent version (18.08) of the u-blox u-Center app run on a Windows laptop to configure the F9P receiver using the documentation on the u-blox website.  I then saved the settings to flash.  The receivers were connected to a laptop with USB cables and I broadcast the base observations over the internet on a couple of NTRIP streams using STRSVR and RTK2GO.com as I’ve described previously.  I configured the F9P to send RTCM3 1005, 1077, 1087, 1097, 1127, and 1230 messages which include base location, raw observations, and GLONASS biases.

For the most part the u-blox documentation is well written and this exercise was fairly straightforward, but I did run into a couple of issues.  First of all, when I plugged the F9P receiver into the laptop, Windows chose the standard Windows COM port driver instead of the u-blox GNSS COM port driver that it chose for the M8T receiver.  You can see this in the screen snapshot below where COM17 is the M8T and COM21 is the F9P.

drivers

Both drivers allow the user to set the baudrate in the properties menu available by right clicking on the device name.   With the u-blox driver, the baudrate setting doesn’t seem to matter which makes sense since it is a USB connection.  I have always left the u-blox driver baudrate at the default of 9600 baud without any issue.  With the windows driver, however,  I found that I had to increase the baudrate setting to 115200 to avoid data loss issues.  I have run into a similar problem before for sample rates greater than 5 Hz when the M8T is accessed through it’s UART interface and an FTDI converter is used to translate to USB, rather than communicating directly through it’s USB interface.  I verified though, that in this case the board is using the USB interface on the receiver and not the UART interface.   Not a big deal, and it may be unique to this board, but something to be aware of in case you run into a similar problem.

The second problem I ran into is that the F9P module seems to be sensitive to my antenna splitter, a standard SMA DC block and tee which I have used on many other receivers before without issue.  It works fine if the F9P power is blocked but if the M8T power is blocked, the F9P seems to detect the tee and shut off the antenna power.  Again, not a big deal, but something to be aware of.

For the rovers, I used a u-blox ANN-MB-00 dual-frequency antenna for the F9P receiver.  This is the antenna u-blox provides with its F9P eval units.  I had planned to split this antenna signal to both receivers as I usually do, but I ran into the problem described above, and not fully understanding the issue yet, ended up using a separate Tallysman TW4721 L1 antenna for the M8T receiver.  Both antennas were attached directly to the car roof which acted as a large ground plane.

I used a hot spot on my cellphone to stream the NTRIP base station observations from the phone to a laptop and then to the F9P receiver and to two instances of RTKNAVI, one for each rover receiver.

Streaming the base observations to the F9P, while simultaneously logging the internal RTK solution and the raw rover observations, and also sending the raw rover observations to RTKNAVI, all over a single serial port can be challenging since only a single application can be connected to the serial port at one time.  Fortunately RTKLIB has a little trick to deal with this.  If the “Output Received Stream to TCP Port” box is checked in STRSVR and a port number specified as shown below, all data coming from the other direction on the serial port will be redirected to a local TCP/IP port.  This data  can then be accessed by any of the other RTKLIB apps as a TCP Client with server address “localhost” using the specified port number.

str2str1

I set up the F9P rover to output both raw observation and navigation messages (UBX-RXM-RAWX/ UBX-RXM-SFRBX) and solution position messages( NMEA-GNGGA).  RTKNAVI then logged all of these messages to a single log file.  RTKCONV and RTKPLOT can both extract the messages they need from this file and ignore the rest so combining them was not an issue.

The NMEA-GNGGA messages from the F9P default to a resolution of 1e-7 degrees of latitude and longitude which works out to roughly 1 cm.  For higher resolution you can increase the resolution of the GNGGA message by setting a bit in the UBX-CFG-NMEA message.   Unfortunately I did not realize the resolution issue until after I collected the data and so my results for the internal F9P solution for this experiment were slightly deteriorated by the lower resolution.

I used the most recent demo5 b31 code to calculate all of the RTKLIB solutions.  Both the demo5 and the 2.4.3 versions of RTKLIB have been updated to translate the new dual frequency u-blox binary messages.  The demo5 solution code will process all the dual frequency observations but I don’t believe 2.4.3 code is able to process the E5b Galileo measurements yet.  The RTKLIB 2.4.2 code however does not have any of these updates.

The demo5 code updates made in the recent B30/B31 versions are based on the updates from the 2.4.3 B30 code but include some modifications to the u-blox cycle slip handling that I had previously added to the demo5 code for the M8T.  Since the demo5 code is primarily aimed at low cost receivers I also made some changes to make the E5b frequency a little easier to specify and faster to process.

To run the RTKNAVI F9P real-time solution, the only significant change I needed to make to the default M8T config file was to change the frequency option from “L1” to “L1+L2+E5b”.  I should have also changed the base station position to “RTCM Antenna Position” to take advantage of the F9 base station RTCM 1005 base location messages but neglected to do this.  This caused the RTKNAVI solution to differ from the F9P solution by small constant values due to the approximate base location used in the RTKNAVI solution.  I later used exact base locations for the RTKLIB post-processing solutions to verify that the different solutions did in fact all match.

Once I had everything set up, I then drove around the local neighborhood, emphasizing the streets with most challenging sky views since I knew both receivers would perform well and be difficult to distinguish if the conditions were not challenging enough.

Results:

I first converted the binary log files to observation files using RTKCONV and verified that the F9P was logging both L1 and L2 measurements for GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo.  I had the Bediou constellation enabled as well but as I verified later, there were no fully operational Bediou satellites overhead when I collected the data.

Here is an plot of the L1 observations for the M8T on the left and the F9P on the right.  I have zoomed into just two minutes during some of the more difficult conditions to compare the two.  The red ticks are cycle slips and the grey ticks are half cycle ambiguities.

f9_obs1

First, notice that the F9P does not log observations for the SBAS satellites, while the M8T does, giving the M8T a couple more satellites to work with.  However, what’s also interesting, and I don’t know why, is that the F9P collected quite good measurements from the Galileo E27 satellite, while the M8T did not pick up this one at all.  Of course the F9P also got a second set of measurements from the second frequency on each satellite and so overall ended up with nearly twice as many raw observations as the M8T.

Also notice that the F9P reports somewhat less cycle slips and many less half cycle ambiguities than the M8T.  Some of this might be because of the different antennas, but particularly the large difference in half cycle ambiguities suggests that u-blox has made other improvements to the new module besides just adding the second frequencies.

Another thing to notice is the number of Galileo satellites.  If you compare these plots to earlier experiments I’ve posted, you’ll notice there are more Galileo satellites now as more and more of them are starting to come online.  The extra satellites really help the M8T solutions because as you can see, they tend to have the highest quality observations through the most difficult times.  Again I don’t know why this is.  It doesn’t appear to be as true for the F9P though.

Next I looked at the real-time solutions.   First, the RTKLIB solutions with RTKNAVI for both receivers.  For the full driving route, the M8T solution had a 77.3% fix rate and the F9P solution had a 96.4% fix rate.  Here is a zoom into the most challenging part of the drive, an older neighborhood with narrower streets and larger trees, the M8T is on the left, and the F9P on the right.  Fixed solutions are in green and float in yellow.  Clearly here the F9P significantly outperformed the M8T.

f9_1

The F9P internal solution did even better with a 99.2% fix rate, as shown in the plot below.  All three solutions agreed within 2 cm horizontal, a little more in vertical, and none of them showed any sign of any false fixes.

f9_2

I didn’t do any static testing to characterize time to first fix as I sometimes do, but for this one run the RTKLIB time to first fix for the M8T was 18 seconds while the RTKLIB F9P solution reached first fix in 6 seconds.  In both cases, RTKLIB was started after the hardware had time to lock to the satellites and acquire navigation data for all satellites.  The demo5 RTKLIB code has an additional fix constraint based on the kalman filter position variance to minimize false fixes while the filter is converging and so this can sometimes affect time to first fix.  I had increased this parameter to 0.1 meter for this experiment since the large number of measurements reduces the chance of a false fix.  This constraint did not limit the M8T time to first fix but it did so for the F9P, meaning the F9P would have reached first fix even faster if this constraint were opened up more.   I can’t tell what the equivalent number would be for the internal F9P solution from this data since it had already been running and achieved a fix before I started logging the data but generally the F9P seems to acquire first fix very quickly.

Next I post-processed both data sets with RTKLIB using the combined-mode setting to run the kalman filter both forwards and backwards over the data.  This noticeably improved the results, bringing the fix rate for the M8T up from 77.3% to 96.1% and the F9P fix rate from 96.4% to 98.8%.

f9_3

Conclusion:

Obviously this is not enough data to make any definitive conclusions, but so far I am very impressed with the F9P!  Both the raw observations and the internal RTK solutions for the F9P look as good as anything I’ve seen from receivers costing many times what this one cost.

If anybody would like to look at the data from this experiment more closely, I have uploaded it to here.  I should mention that all the fix rates I specify in this post and other posts won’t exactly match the fix rates in the raw solutions, since I adjust the data start and end times to be consistent between data sets and to start after all solutions have achieved first fix.  I believe this is the fairest way to compare multiple solutions, especially when there is a mix of internal and RTKLIB solutions

Also, I’d like to thank Gumstix again for making these modules available to me for evaluation!

Update: 12/2/18:

Reviewing the config files I used for this experiment I discovered that, while I had intended the real-time and post-processing config files to be identical, there were in fact some small differences between them.  One difference in particular, that appears to have affected the results as described above, is that I reduced the minimum number of consecutive samples required to hold ambiguities (pos2-arminfix) from 100 to 20 for the post-processed config files.  A value of 100 corresponds to 20 seconds at the experiment’s 5 Hz sample rate which is a value I have typically used.  However, with lower ambiguity tracking gain (pos2-varholdamb=0.1) and the increase in observations coming from including Galileo, the chances of false fixes is reduced and I have been tending to use lower values of arminfix in more recent experiments.   Reducing this value appears to explain a large part of the jump in percent fix for the M8T between real-time and post-processing, rather than the switch from forward-only to combined that I attribute it to above.  These differences only affect the comparisons between RTKLIB real-time and post-processed results, and not between the M8T and the F9P since the config files were consistent between the two receivers.

This was only intended to be a quick first look at the F9P.  It will require more data and more analysis to properly characterize the F9P so I  won’t try to do that here but I will share the table shown below which includes a few cases I have run since the original post.  I hope to dig into the details in future posts.

Fix percent
Real-timePost-processPost-processPost-process
ARMIN=100ARMIN=100ARMIN=20ARMIN=20
forward-onlyforward-onlyforward-onlycombined
M8T/RTKLIB77.3%81.2%96.0%96.1%
F9P/RTKLIB96.4%99.1%99.3%98.8%
F9P internal99.2%

One last point worth making is that while at first glance the post-process fix percent increase from M8T=96.0% to F9P=99.3% may not sound that significant, it is in fact a factor of nearly six if you consider it as a decrease in float from 4.0% to 0.7%.

Comparison of the u-blox M8T to the u-blox M8P

I recently acquired a couple of  u-blox C94-M8P receivers and so I am now able to do a direct comparison between the u-blox M8T and M8P modules, something I’ve been wanting to do for a while.

I believe the hardware between the two receivers is identical, the differences are only in firmware.  The most significant difference in firmware is that the M8P includes an internal RTK solution.  In order to squeeze this into the firmware, however, they had to remove support for the Galileo and SBAS constellations, so this is another fairly significant difference.

Cost, of course, is also different.  The M8T receivers I usually use are available from CSGShop for $75.  CSG sells an M8P receiver for $240 or you can buy a kit with two C94-M8P eval boards from u-blox for $400.  The C94-M8P boards also include on-board radios.

In this post, I will describe how I used RTKLIB and a cell phone hot spot to connect the M8Ps rather than using the internal radios.  I will also compare the RTKLIB solutions for a pair of M8T receivers with the internal u-blox RTK solution for a pair of M8P receivers. I hope to compare the RTKLIB solution to the internal solution for a pair of M8Ps in a future post.  If you are mostly interested in the M8T to M8P comparison results, you can jump directly to the end of this post.

To set up the experiment I first connected both a C94-M8P receiver and a CSG M8T receiver to the GPS survey antenna on my roof using a signal splitter.  I then connected both receivers to a laptop with USB cables.  I configured the M8P using u-center following instructions in the C94-M8P Setup Guide with a few modifications.  First of all, I normally use an NTRIP caster over a cell phone hot spot for my real-time data link so didn’t want to bother with the on-board radios.  I disabled the radios following the instructions in the setup guide.  This involves removing a plastic cover, soldering a wire to a capacitor, drilling a hole in the plastic cover to run the wire, then plugging the other end into a pin on the connector.  It is also possible to do this by connecting an external voltage and ground to the correct pins on the connector, but a simple jumper option would have been a lot more convenient.

The setup instructions are intended to run the setup and solution output messages over the USB port while running the RTCM raw observation messages between receivers over the UART interface.  The UART interface is internally connected to the radios.  Since I am not using the radios, I wanted to run all communication over the USB interface to avoid extra cables.  To do this, I disabled the UART interface and configured the USB interface for UBX messages in and RTCM messages out using the UBX-CFG-PRT configure command from u-center.  Following the C94-M8P setup instructions, I then specified a fixed base station location with the UBX-CFG-TMODE3 command and enabled 1005,1077,1087, and 1230 RTCM messages which include the raw observations, base station location, and GLONASS biases.

I setup the base station M8T receiver as I usually do to output the raw observations using the UBX-RXM-RAWX messages.

I then started two copies of the RTKLIB STRSVR app on the base station laptop and streamed both sets of base observations to an NTRIP server as I’ve described in an earlier post using the free RTK2GO.com community NTRIP server.  With this setup, I can receive the NTRIP streams anywhere I can get cell phone coverage, using a cell phone hot spot and a laptop connected to the two rovers and I can test over much longer distances than the radios would allow.

One thing to be aware of is that there are separate versions of the receiver firmware for the M8P base and M8P rover.  I didn’t realize this at first.  It turned out that both of my receivers came loaded with the rover firmware so I spent an embarrassingly long time unsuccessfully trying to configure one of them as a base station.  Once I realized the problem, I was able to fairly quickly download the base firmware from the u-blox website, then use u-center to download the base station firmware to the receiver.

Next, I attached the two rover receivers to a laptop using USB cables and to a single antenna using a signal splitter.  To make the results more comparable to some of my other recent experiments I used the same GPS-500 L1/L2 antenna from SwiftNav that I used for those experiments.  This is a more expensive antenna than generally would be used with these receivers but I wanted to avoid mixing differences between antennas with differences between receivers.

The M8P rover does not need much configuration since it will by default process any incoming RTCM messages as inputs to an RTK solution.  I did configure the USB port  to support NEMA, UBX, and RTCM messages in and UBX and NMEA messages out.  For the static rover test, I left the position message output rate at the default 1 Hz, but increased it to 5 Hz for the dynamic rover test.  I suspect this only affects the message output rate, and not the solution itself since the solution is probably run at a faster internal rate.

The only other setting I modified in the M8P rover receiver was the dynamic model of the navigation mode using the UBX-CFG-NAV5 message.  I set it to “Pedestrian” for my static rover test and “Automotive” for my moving rover test.

I then started another copy of STRSVR on the rover laptop to stream the M8P base station data from the NTRIP server to the M8P rover over the USB COM port.

At this point, getting the solution output messages from the M8P rover is a little tricky.  Only a single user can attach to a Windows COM port at one time and the STRSVR app is not fully bi-directional.  One solution might be to use u-center to stream the NTRIP data and receive the rover messages but I did not verify if this is possible.

Instead, I used a feature of STRSVR that allows you to pipe the data coming from the other direction to a TCP/IP port which can then be processed by either another copy of STRSVR, or plotted with RTKPLOT, or used as an input to RTKNAVI, or all three at once.  Below, on the left, I show how I modified the STRSVR setup that streams the base data from the NTRIP client to the rover by checking the “Output Received Stream to TCP Port” and selecting port 1000.  On the right, I show the STRSVR setup necessary to stream this incoming data from the rover to a file.  This is a convenient work-around for the problem of only being able to connect one user at a time to a COM port.

strsvr2

In my case I configured the rover receiver to send both the M8P internal solution position using NMEA messages and the raw observations using UBX messages so that I could post-process the raw observations later with RTKLIB.  In general though, it is only necessary to send the NMEA messages.  I configured the rover to send GGA and RMC NMEA messages, but others will work as well.

For the M8Ts, I ran a real-time RTKLIB solution using RTKNAVI and my normal kinematic solution configuration for both static and moving rover tests.  As usual, I used the demo5 version of RTKLIB for this test.

So, how did they compare?  First of all, a few differences to consider between the solutions.   The M8P solution only uses GPS and GLONASS satellites since the SBAS and Galileo satellites have been disabled in the M8P firmware as I mentioned earlier.  This should give the M8T solution an advantage.  The M8P also has limited processing power relative to the laptop running the RTKLIB solution, so this may also give the M8T solution an advantage.  On the other hand, I’m sure that u-blox has lots of smart people that know all the internal details of the hardware which should give the M8P solution an advantage.

For my first comparison, I did a a static rover test with the antenna located on a tripod a few meters from the house and partially obstructed by trees.  To avoid different starting conditions between the two receivers, I connected both receivers to the antenna and waited till they both converged to fixed solutions before starting the test.  I then disconnected the antenna for about 30 seconds, and then reconnected it.  This will cause both receivers to lose lock with all satellites and the solutions will have to re-converge from scratch so this should be a fair comparison.  I disconnected and reconnected the antenna several times to compare the times to re-acquire fix and the accuracies of the fixes.

The results are plotted below, the M8P internal solution on the top, and the real-time RTKLIB M8T solution on the bottom.  I re-connected the antenna five times.  Once, the internal M8P solution re-acquired fix slightly quicker than the RTKLIB M8T solution, once the M8T re-acquired fix slightly quicker than the M8P.  The other three times, the M8T re-acquired fix significantly quicker than the M8P.   The M8P times to re-acquire varied from 52 to 220 seconds.  The M8T took from 50 to 76 seconds.

The M8T RTKLIB solutions had no false fixes, the M8P internal solutions had false fixes with several meter errors for over five seconds in two of the five tests.  The false fixes are circled with red in the plot below.

m8p1

The E-W and N-S axes matched within one centimeter between the two solutions.  The U-D axis at first appears to differ by 21.5 meters between the two solutions but this is because I specified the RTKLIB vertical solution to be relative to the ellipsoid, while the M8P solution is relative to the geoid.  If I subtract the geoid to ellipsoid offset (available in the GGA message from the M8P), then the two solutions match in the vertical axis as well.

Overall, I would have to say that in this particular run,  the RTKLIB M8T solution out-performed the M8P internal solution by a fairly significant amount.

One other observation about the M8P solution is that the precision reported (at least in the GGA message) is only to one centimeter in the horizontal axes and 10 cm in the vertical accuracy.  I didn’t see any obvious way to get outputs with better precision than this, at least with the NMEA messages.  [Note 8/16/18: It turns out that the UBX-CFG-NMEA message can be used to enable high precision mode to fix this.  Thanks to Charles Wang for pointing this out in a comment]

Next I mounted the same antenna on the roof of my car and drove around the neighborhood.  The sky view varied from nearly unobstructed to moderate tree canopy.  Here are the results of that test, the MP internal RTK solution on the left, and the M8T real-time RTKLIB solution on the right.

m8p2

The fix rate for the M8P solution was 52.4%.  The M8T solution was noticeably better with a 95.2% fix rate.

Here’s a plot of the difference between the two solutions (green indicates both solution are fixed, yellow indicates that at least one is float).  The U-D axis differences are fairly large, mostly because of the 10 cm vertical precision of the M8P position messages.  There is also a fairly large discrepancy between the two solutions around 22:55:00.  This corresponds to a 15 second gap in base station data, probably due to a loss of cell phone reception.  This seems to be a large error for such a short base outage but I was not able to narrow down the cause beyond this or determine which receiver contributed more to this combined error.  This probably deserves more investigation in a future post.

m8p2d

Again, the real-time RTKLIB M8T solution appeared in this test to be better than the internal M8P solution.

The most likely reason the M8T is getting a better solution is that it is using more satellites.  Here are the rover raw observations for the M8P on the left, and the M8T on the right.  With the GPS and GLONASS constellations, both receivers are seeing 13 satellites.  With Galileo and SBAS, the M8T is seeing an additional 7 satellites.  One of these Galileo satellites is not fully operational yet and so is not used in the solution, but that still gives 6 extra satellites, nearly 50% more than the M8P solution.

m8p3

If the extra satellites are what is improving the M8T solution, then running a solution with the M8T data without the SBAS and Galileo satellites should give a solution similar to the M8P solution.

This is easy to do, so let’s try it.  Here’s a post-processed solution for the M8T data using only the GPS and GLONASS satellites.

m8p4

Fix rate is 66.5%, reasonably close to the 52.4% fix rate from the M8P internal solution.  This suggests that a large part of the improvement for the M8T solution is coming from the additional satellites and not from any differences in the solution algorithms.

As in all my comparisons, this is intended to be one user’s initial experience, and not any kind of rigorous comparison test.  Please interpret these results with that in mind.  If you have experiences that differ from these I would be very interested to hear about them.

Glonass Ambiguity Resolution with RTKLIB Revisited

To get a high precision fixed solution in RTKLIB we need to resolve the integer ambiguities that come from the carrier phase measurements.  Resolving the integer ambiguities for the GLONASS satellites is more challenging than resolving them for the other constellations.  This is because, unlike the other constellations, the GLONASS satellites all transmit on slightly different frequencies.  This introduces an additional bias error in the receiver hardware.

These hardware biases are constant, generally the same for all receivers from the same manufacturer, are proportional to carrier frequency and are similar between L1 and L2.

In the demo5 version of RTKLIB, there are four choices for how to handle GLONASS ambiguity resolution (AR). I will cover all four briefly, but then focus on the “autocal” setting which I have enhanced in the most recent version (b29c) of the demo5 code.

Off:  If Glonass  AR is set to “Off”, then the raw measurements from the Glonass satellites will be used for the float solution but ambiguity resolution will be done only with satellites from the other constellations.  If you are not using the demo5 version of RTKLIB, this is usually your only choice when using receivers from different manufacturers for the rover and the base.  However, you are giving up a significant amount of information by ignoring the GLONASS ambiguities and so I would not recommend this setting if you are using the demo5 code, unless of course your receivers don’t support the Glonass satellites.

On:  If Glonass AR is set to “On” then RTKLIB will treat the Glonass ambiguities the same as the ambiguities from the other constellations and will not make any attempt to account for the additional hardware biases.  Use this setting if your base and rover receivers are from the same manufacturer, since in this case, the biases will cancel and can be ignored.  There are also some cases in which different manufacturers have equal or nearly equal biases as we will see later, in which case you can also use this setting.  This is your best solution for dealing with Glonass ambiguities.  I always try to use matched receivers for base and rover if possible.

Fix-and-Hold: This is an option I have added to the demo5 code for Glonass AR.  It is an extension to the “fix-and-hold” method used for other constellations but instead of using the additional feedback to track the ambiguities, it uses it to null out the hardware biases.  I recommend this setting when using the demo5 code with unmatched receivers.  It takes advantage of the additional information in the Glonass ambiguites most of the time.  However, fix-and-hold is not enabled until after a first fix has been achieved, and so the Glonass ambiguities are not available until then.  This can mean longer time to first fix and less robustness compared to the “On” option, so don’t use this option for matched receivers.

Auto-cal:  This option adds additional states to the kalman filter to estimate the receiver hardware biases as a function of carrier frequency, one state for L1, another for L2.  In previous experiments I had not had any success with it.  Recently, however, I discovered that if I adjusted the filter settings, it can be effective for a zero baseline case, where base and rover are both connected to the same antenna so that almost all other errors are completely cancelled.  With a little more experimentation I also found that for short baselines it can also be effective if the kalman filter state is pre-set to something close to the final value before the solution is started.  It will then usually converge to the correct bias value.  However, there is currently no mechanism in the code to adjust any of these values, so I have not found this mode to be useful in its current implementation.

To make the auto-cal option more flexible, and hopefully more useful, I made a few modifications to it in the b29c code.  I added the capability to pre-set the initial state value and also to adjust the internal filter settings, specifically the initial variance and process noise for this state.  The units for the state, and hence for the initial value are in meters per frequency channel and values generally are within +/-5 cm per channel.  I used some existing config parameters that are currently unused to reduce the amount of code I needed to change.  Unfortunately it means that the names are not as descriptive as they could be.  The new config parameters are:

pos2-arthres2 = relative GLONASS hardware bias in meters per frequency slot
pos2-arthres3 = initial variance of GLONASS hardware bias states
pos-arthres4 = process noise for GLONASS hardware bias states

Bias values have been published for some of the most popular geodetic quality receivers but are generally not available for lower-cost or less popular receivers.  Here is a table of values from a paper published by Lambert Wanninger in 2011 for nine receiver manufacturers.

biases

I was able to verify these results for Trimble, Leica, and Novatel, but I found a much lower value for Septentrio so I suspect the biases may have changed in their newer receivers.

To demonstrate the modified autocal option, I will start with a zero baseline case between a ComNav receiver and a Tersus receiver.  It is easiest to measure the hardware biases in the zero baseline case because most other errors will cancel and the hardware biases will be the dominant error.  In this case, I have significantly reduced the initial variance setting from the original value of 1.0 to 1E-7 and increased the process noise from 1E-6 to 1E-3.

I have run the solution several times with the initial bias value set to different numbers between -.05 and 0.06.  Here are the results for both L1 and L2.

biases1

The convergence occurs just after first fix is achieved.  If a fix is not achieved, then the state will not converge as you can see above for the 0.06 example.   In this case, the initial value was too far from the correct value and prevented getting a fix.  As you can see, all the other cases converged towards a single value around -.022, both for L1 and for L2.

Another way to visualize the error in the initial value is to look at the GLONASS residuals after first fix is achieved.  The plot below shows the GLONASS L1 carrier phase residuals  for different initial values, for 0.03 on the left, -0.05 in the middle, and what I believe is the correct value for this receiver combination of -.022 on the right.

 

acal1

Here are the same plots for the L2 carrier phase residuals.

acal2

Through a slightly tedious process, I am fairly easily able to iterate the residuals down to near zero for different pairs of receivers in my possession.  Note that this gives me the relative difference in biases for each receiver pair, and not absolute values for each receiver, unlike Wanniger’s table which is for absolute biases.

Extending the table to receivers used in nearby CORS stations is a little more challenging because the initial bias value needs to be fairly close to get a first fix and hence a convergence, but still possible if the base station is not too distant.   I found data sets that included CORS data from Leica, Novatel, Trimble, and Septentrio receivers.  Using the above procedure to iterate the residuals down to near zero, I was then able to extend my table and make the values absolute by choosing the unknown offset to make my bias pairs align with Wanninger’s table.  This is the resulting table I created.

ComNav    =   2.3 cm
Leica          =   2.3 cm
Novatel      =  2.3 cm
Septentrio = -0.3 cm
SwiftNav   = -0.2 cm
Tersus        = -0.1 cm
Trimble      = -0.7 cm
u-blox         = -3.2 cm 

To generate an initial value for the bias state from this table for an RTKLIB solution, subtract the base station bias from the rover bias, then divide by 100 to convert from centimeters to meters.  This value can then be used to set the “pos2-arthres2” config parameter in the config file.  For the RTKPOST and RTKNAVI GUI option menus I have labeled this “Glo HW Bias”.

To test this code on an independent set of data after generating the table, I used a data set recently sent to me by a reader.  It consists of a u-blox  M8T receiver for rover and Leica receiver just a few kilometers away for base, and was collected in Europe.  The rover position was static but I ran the solution in kinematic mode to make the solution a little more challenging and to make any errors in the solution more visible.

To generate the correct config value for RTKLIB I  subtracted the Leica bias of 2.3 cm from the above table from the u-blox bias of -3.2 cm to get a relative bias between receivers of -5.5 cm or -0.055 m.  I added “pos2-arthres2=-0.055” to the config file and then ran the solution four times, with pos2-gloarmode set to “off”,”fix-and-hold”,”autocal”, and “on”.  Although I left the bias value set for all runs it is ignored unless gloarmode is set to autocal.

Here are the times to first fix, the number of satellite pairs used for the initial fix, and the number of satellite pairs being used for fix after 10 minutes.

  Time to # sat pairs used # sat pairs used for
GLO AR mode first fix for initial fix fix after 10 min
OFF 4:10 7 7
Fix&Hold 4:10 7 11
Autocal 1:05 14 14
On 6:47 14 14

As you would expect, the time to first fix for gloarmode=”off” was the same as “fix-and-hold” since “fix-and-hold” does not use the GLONASS satellites for initial fix.  After 10 minutes it was still only including four of the GLONASS satellites in the ambiguity resolution which was a little unusual, typically I would have expected more GLONASS satellites to be included.

With gloarmode=”autocal”, the time to first fix was reduced from 250 seconds to 65 seconds and the number of satellites included in the first fix increased from 7 to 14., both significant improvements.

The most surprising thing in this data is that when gloarmode was set to “on” it acquired a fix at all.  In many similar cases it will never get a fix.  The GLONASS carrier phase residuals after initial fix were very high though as can be seen below.  The left plot is with gloarmode set to “on”, and the right plot is with it set to “autocal”.

biases3

The ambiguity resolution ratio was also much higher when autocal was enabled as can be seen below (yellow/green=autocal, olive/blue=on) which improves robustness.

biases2

The large residuals did not affect the solution position, as the two solution did not differ by more than 2 mm at any time.  The autocal solution however is much more robust in the sense that it is less likely to lose fix.

Although I have found the results with autocal enabled are generally excellent with relatively short baselines (<10 km), I have found the results less encouraging for longer baselines (>25 km).  In these case I have found that I often get better results with pos-gloarmode set to “fix-and-hold” then I do with “autocal”.  I don’t understand exactly why this is, but suspect that the fix-and-hold correction is more general and may be correcting for more than just the GLONASS hardware biases.

The code changes for this feature are included both in my Github repository and in the newest (demo5 b29c) executables available to download from the rtkexplorer website.   If you choose to experiment with this feature, please let me know if you find any errors in my table, or can add values for any additional receivers.

[Note 6/17/18:  I had a issue with uploading the executables to the website.   If you downloaded them prior to 6/17/18, please download again to get the updated version.] 

Real-time solutions with RTKLIB and NTRIP using a cell phone as data link

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve recently acquired access to some low cost dual frequency receivers, specifically a Tersus Precis BX306 and a pair of Swift Piksi Multis.  I have been playing with them over the past few weeks and plan to share my experiences with them over a series of posts.

Both receivers provide internal RTK solutions as well as raw measurements that can be processed with RTKLIB.  I’m interested in how the RTKLIB solutions compare to the internal solutions as well as how both of these compare to solutions derived from single frequency data collected simultaneously with the dual frequency data.

The first issue I ran into with this experiment, however, is that both receivers will only provide an RTK solution for real-time data, neither have the capability to post-process previously collected data.  This meant that I needed a way to provide a real-time stream of dual frequency base station data to the receivers.  I wanted to be able to  do this while driving a car around the local area so I needed more range than a low cost set of radios would give.

Fortunately, I have fairly good cell phone coverage in this area so I was able to rely on my cell phone for the data link.  In this post I will explain how I did that, both for an external CORS reference station and for my own base station.  In both cases I used  NTRIP server/caster/clients to do this.  NTRIP is a protocol for streaming of DGPS or RTK correction data via the internet using TCP/IP.  The NTRIP server sends out the data to an NTRIP caster and the NTRIP client receives it. For more details, there is a good description here.

Using this setup I was able to run real-time solutions with RTKLIB as well as with the intenal RTK engines in the Swift and Tersus receivers.  Here’s a diagram from the RTKLIB manual showing the setup I used for running a real-time RTKLIB solution using RTKNAVI.  When I ran a Swift or Tersus solution, the configuration was similar, but the NTRIP caster streamed the base station data to STRSVR instead of RTKNAVI, and STRSVR then streamed it to the receiver where it was combined with the raw receiver observations to create an internal RTK solution.  Also missing in this diagram is the cell phone which should be in between the internet and the rover PC.

ntrip.rtklib

The amount of free base station reference data that is available online on a real-time basis is a fair bit more limited that what is available after the fact for post-processing.  Fortunately I was able to find a CORS reference station about 17 km away that is available real-time through the UNAVCO NTRIP caster.  The service is free if the data is used for educational purposes and appropriately attributed.   Most of their stations are on the west coast of the U.S. but they do have some scattered across the rest of the country as you can see in this map from their site.  There are other networks available in other parts of the world that can be found by searching online.

unavco_map

To access the UNAVCO data I had to request access through email but the process was very simple and within a couple hours of my request I was all setup with an account and password.

Once I had my account set up, I used RTKLIB on my laptop computer to collect the data from the internet and stream it to the rover receiver over a serial port.  If I were doing this experiment within range of a wireless router then I could leave the computer connected to the wireless.  In this case though, I wanted to roam outside the range of my home wireless.  To do this, I enabled a hot spot on my cell phone and logged into that with my computer.

I was able to access the raw observation data stream from the UNAVCO NTRIP caster directly using the NTRIP client option in RTKLIB.  If I had wanted to generate a real-time RTKLIB solution, I would have configured the input streams of RTKNAVI but in this case I want to stream the raw data directly to the receiver so it can use the observation data for it’s internal solution.  I did this using the STRSVR app in RTKLIB.  I specifed the “NTRIP Client” option as input type and then entered the information from my UNAVCO account into the “Ntrip Client Options” as shown below.

ntrip_client

In this case I wanted the data from station P041 in RTCM3 format so I had to specify the Mountpoint as “P041_RTCM3”.  For other networks, the mountpoint details may be a little different.  Most NTRIP casters use Port 2101, and that was the case for this one.  For the STRSVR output type, I specified “Serial” and then configured the serial port options for whichever rover receiver I was using.  Before doing the configuration, I had connected the receiver to the laptop using a USB cable.

I then had to configure the receiver to tell it to get its base station data from the COM port and specify that it is in RTCM3 format.  The details for doing this on the two receivers are a little different but fairly straightforward in both cases.  You may also need to specify the exact base station location manually or the receiver may be able to get it from the data stream depending on the receiver and NTRIP stream details.

And that’s it.  With this configuration, either receiver was able to fairly quickly lock to a fixed RTK solution and continue to receive base data as long as I stayed in range of cell reception.  Any lag in the base station observations appeared to be less than a second.

That worked great for using an existing external reference as base station.  However, I also wanted to run another real-time experiment where I used one Swift receiver as base and the other as rover.   To do this, I needed to set up an NTRIP server to stream the data to  a caster on the internet as well as an NTRIP client to receive it.

I started by connecting the second Swift receiver to an old laptop with a USB cable and then downloading RTKLIB, the Swift console app,  and the right USB drivers.  The base station antenna is on top of my roof and the laptop is in the house so I was able to connect the laptop to the internet using my home wireless.

For the NTRIP caster, I found it convenient to use RTK2GO which is a community caster available for anyone to use at no cost.  To send the data to the caster, I used the “NTRIP Server” as the STRSVR output type and configured it as shown below.

strsvr_server

Again, the port is 2101.  You can choose any name for the mountpoint.  If that name is already in use, then rtk2go will assign a suffix to it, so it is best to choose a name that is unlikely to already be in use.  The password at the current time is BETATEST but that may change from time to time so it’s worth verifying it is still correct.

For the STRSVR input, I selected “Serial” and specified the correct COM port for the base station receiver.  In this case the raw observations are in Swift binary format which RTKLIB does not support so it sends them unaltered.  If they were in a format that RTKLIB did support, then they could be converted to RTCM3 to reduce bandwidth and make them more easily usable by someone else not using a Swift receiver as rover.  You can specify the conversion to RTCM3 using the “Conv” menu on the STRSVR output.

Start STRSVR and your base station observations are now accessible to anyone in the world through RTK2GO.com!

On the rover side, the NTRIP client is set up as I previously described using STRSVR except you want to use the same caster/mountpint/password as you just did on the base station.  In this case the user-id is left blank.  Again, set the STRSVR output to “Serial” to send it to the receiver.   Then set up the receiver to get it’s base station data from the serial port and, in this case, specify that it is in the Swift Binary Protocol (sbp).  Start the receiver and it should fairly quickly get a fix.  If you are seeing baseline data but not a solution, then most likely you have not specified the base station location to the rover.

I was now able to drive around almost anywhere and get continuous real-time RTK solutions using either my own base station or the CORS reference station as base.  In the next post I will discuss some of the data I collected and analyzed.

 

 

 

 

Update to RTKLIB config file recommendations

I’ve just updated my “RTKLIB: Customizing the input configuration file” post from a few months ago with information on all of the new config parameters I have added to the demo5 code up through B26B.  I’ve also added more notes to some of the existing features based on my more recent experiences.